During the period of my career when I was a senior executive, I was responsible for hiring, promoting, firing, and laying-off literally thousands of people.
And because I'm a people person, when it came to making those decisions affecting others' careers and personal lives, I often felt strong emotions. I alternated between feeling satisfied, sick to my stomach, invigorated, excited, or just plain unhappy because of the impact of those decisions. But I always remembered that I was being paid to make things better. Keeping that in mind helped during the tough times.
Early in my career, one of the first things I realized was that there was a genuine compensation disparity between the genders. In my first job, my boss was female and I heard her hassles firsthand. Additionally, I heard what other male execs said about her behind her back. Later, when I was working in the fashion industry, I frequently traveled overseas with many strong women who weren't shy about sharing their opinions with me - often the only male on the trip. From my male colleagues I knew what the market was paying for certain jobs and responsibilities and I could see that these talented women were getting "beaten up" financially.
In later years, as a company leader, I had the responsibility for overseeing compensation raises, salaries and bonuses for many executives and managers. In their annual reviews I noticed that - more often than the males - the women were likely to accept what they were given without question. On the other hand, the men often asked questions, challenged the size of what they got, or got angry about what they saw as being unfair.
Note to women readers: Men frequently discuss compensation, it's almost like understanding the playing field for them. Most women don't. But you should.
I believe these are two reasons why men continue to earn more than women for doing equal work in the same organization. But as we all know, there has been progress over the last decade, reaching a point that the disparity between women and men had lessened significantly. No, it hasn't been erased, but at the end of 2006 it was lessened from 10 years earlier.
But now there's news that things are going south again:
According to the New York Times in an article from August 16, for the first time since the women's movement came to life, the percentage of women at work has fallen year over year. Over the last eight years, the percentage of women working outside the home has fallen to where it was back in 1994. Meanwhile, the median hourly pay of women aged 25 to 48 has fallen from $15.04 in 2004 to $14.84 last year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.This is not just a "women-only" issue. It impacts families across America.
Because many households depend on the income of both partners to make ends meet, any tightening has a genuine impact on many factors and industries including retail sales, home affordability, manufacturing and most service industries. Already we are seeing service and retail sectors, which are normally driven by women, experiencing difficulty and slow-down. This creates a domino affect throughout the entire economy thereby slowing down any chance of a return to "normal" growth and levels of employment.
I am frequently told by clients working in older companies or industries that they simply can't afford to make the needed changes and adjustments required to eliminate the disparity between workers in their organizations. "It's too much, too fast," I'm told as they attempt to justify the status quo. (And by the way - I hear this from both men and women decision makers.) I disagree. Companies and industries can be competitive and respect equality as many newer industries and organizations have shown.
Unless everyone gets onto this fact, however, we'll continue going in the wrong direction. Women will continue getting beaten up. And everyone will fall down as a result.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.